National Science Foundation awards CSB grants totaling $799,632 to support innovation in chemistry department

August 31, 2011

The chemistry department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University has had a remarkable summer securing two grants totaling $799,632 from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  This pushes the total CSB has received to more than $1.76 million from four NSF grants since 2009.

The grants will support innovative changes to the chemistry department's curriculum, state-of-the-art equipment and scholarship support for chemistry students at CSB and its partner institution, Saint John's University.

The two recent grants include:

• A $600,000 grant from the NSF's Scholarship for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program to fund chemistry scholarships for groups historically underrepresented in science. It is the largest grant ever received by CSB from the NSF.

The grant period runs from Feb. 1, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2017. During that period, four cohorts of 10 students each from groups underrepresented in chemistry, biochemistry or a chemistry related field will receive scholarships and academic support. The first cohort will start in the summer of 2012 or 2013.

Each cohort will participate in a summer program immediately before class begins in the fall semester. Besides the introductory chemistry course, students will participate in advising sessions on how to succeed in chemistry and their first year of college, and receive information about available academic and social resources on each campus.

"One of the goals having them here in the summer is that they are going to be teaching assistants right away ... when their non-cohort peers show up," said Kate Graham, associate professor of chemistry at CSB and SJU and the principal investigator of the grant. "They'll have these leadership roles right away."

• A $199,632 grant from the NSF's Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics program to support the chemistry department's curriculum revision and purchase of equipment.

The grant was effective July 1, and runs until June 31, 2014. The revision of the department's curriculum will change every class and lab in the chemistry major, beginning with the entering first-year class this year.

Students will see an integrated curriculum that is "quite revolutionary," according to Henry Jakubowski, professor of chemistry at CSB and SJU and the department's chairperson.  In addition, labs will be separated from classes with an initial focus on laboratory skills.

"Our hope is that our students will be more adaptable to solving problems in new situations," said Chris Schaller, associate professor of chemistry at CSB and SJU and the grant's principal investigator. "It increases the level of practical scientific skills in graduates entering the workforce, helping these students to get jobs."

CSB received a third grant from NSF in August 2009 for $364,681 to purchase a 400 megahertz nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, an instrument used in determining the three-dimensional structure of a molecule.

The 2011 chemistry department grants followed on the heels of CSB's largest previous grant from NSF, $599,950  in December 2009 to fund MapCores, a scholarship and curriculum program for women interested in the fields of math, physics, computer science and engineering.

Also, CSB and SJU assistant professor of chemistry Alicia Peterson was a co-principal investigator of a grant awarded to the St. Catherine University, St. Paul. Peterson's involvement with the grant will allow students from CSB and SJU to run samples on a single crystal x-ray diffractometer, which will be housed at St. Catherine's.

The NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering through grants, and cooperative agreements to more than 2,000 colleges, universities, K-12 school systems, businesses, informal science organizations and other research organizations throughout the United States. The foundation accounts for about one-fourth of federal support to academic institutions for basic research.